[Written in 2009. Of note, as of 4/1/13: I wrote this essay while I was still a therapist; I ended my therapy practice in March, 2010. Also, when I wrote this essay I didn’t have a paypal “donations” button on my website. I just put that up a few days ago — so hopefully I can invest more time and energy into this website.]
I have been accused several times over the years of running a cult through this website, or at least of being cultish. So I decided to put this cult question to the test—according to the Cult Information Centre’s “5 Characteristics of a Cult” and “26 Mind Control Techniques.”
Of course, this is me “subjectively” putting my own website and point of view to the test, but at least it’s a try!
According to the Cult Information Centre, “Every cult can be defined as a group having all of the following five characteristics”:
1. It uses psychological coercion to recruit, indoctrinate and retain its members
Daniel Mackler’s commentary: Over the years I have tried to convince people of my point of view, and it never works. Presently, I hold to the “attraction rather than promotion” philosophy. I try to be as honest and vocal as I can about where I stand, and hope that the right people see it. Although I would like it if more people held to my belief system—as I believe it would greatly benefit the world (and especially children)—coercion works directly against my purposes. How do you coerce people into seeing how coerced they were as children, and how coerced they remain because of their childhood training? My experience has taught me that for people to be able discover the value in this site’s point of view it must come from within. No one can impose emotional healing from the outside. (In this vein, I have a paper about my therapy philosophy published on mindfreedom.org’s website, titled “Therapy Without Force: A Treatment Model for Severe Psychiatric Problems.”)
2. It forms an elitist totalitarian society.
Daniel Mackler’s commentary: I haven’t formed anything resembling a society yet, though I do have a few allies who agree deeply with what I write. If, however, my point of view did have a lot of adherents, would we become totalitarian? My answer: I hope not! I think the opposite. From the point of view of the child’s true self (which is the point of view of my website) both parents and society are ALREADY totalitarian. And I would try to change that. Give children real freedom—the freedom of having enlightened parents. Of course, some might argue that taking away parents’ unlimited reproductive rights (a premise I might consider reasonable) is totalitarian, but from my point of view I consider unlimited reproductive rights destructive to our planet, not to mention abusive toward children.
3. Its founder/leader is self-appointed, dogmatic, messianic, not accountable and has charisma.
Daniel Mackler’s commentary: As the “leader” of this website, I naturally am self-appointed (no one else has picked me, and no one else pays for the website!). Am I dogmatic? People who strongly disagree with me sometimes label me dogmatic, but I generally find them to be the dogmatic ones: unable to challenge their viewpoints in any reasonable, self-reflective way, because it’s too painful for them—and has too many consequences for their life. Am I messianic? Chosen by God to save the world? I don’t think so—because I don’t believe in a God who goes around choosing anything. If there is such a thing as God it’s only the best of our true self within—the true self connected with the universal river of truth. That said, I do believe the premises of my point of view could radically change the world in a profoundly positive way. And I do feel called to this work—from within, as the result of my life experiences—and I do hold myself to be a non-religious prophet of sorts… Am I not accountable? Hardly! I feel I am strongly accountable, and bound by strong ethical principles. And primarily I am accountable to my deepest true self—but also to the true selves of others. A huge part of what motivates me on this inner journey is to break the intergenerational cycle of abuse in which that I was raised. My parents were not accountable. I must be. Charisma? Sure, I have some charisma, or at least others often tell me I do. The key is to not misuse it.
4. It believes ‘the end justifies the means’ in order to solicit funds/recruit people.
Daniel Mackler’s commentary: This does not apply to me. I’m not recruiting followers (though I like allies!), and I’m not asking money from those people who like my website. Since late 2008, though, I have been selling a few products. I suppose I could ask for donations at some point, to keep the website running, but I haven’t wanted to do that yet. So far I’ve just kept this website running with money from my own pocket. As for holding to a philosophy of “the end justifies the means,” that’s not me. I strongly believe that every step of the journey is important, and in many ways that the journey is the destination.
5. Its wealth does not benefit its members or society.
Daniel Mackler’s commentary: This website and its ideas generate no wealth, per se. Yes, I make some money from the products I sell, but that just helps to pay my debts for their production. As of yet they have generated no profit. Meanwhile, hopefully my products benefit those who buy them—and make the products worth even more than the cost of purchasing them! Also, once in a while I do get therapy clients from this website, but I don’t charge much money—certainly far less than the average psychotherapist in New York City—and I hope the amount they pay me ultimately pays them excellent emotional dividends. That said, I admit that some more wealth would make my life more pleasant, but that was never my motive in entering the mental health field or in starting this website. The idea for starting this website was simple: I wanted a public platform from which to disseminate my ideas—and maybe to make a few allies in the world.
According to the Cult Information Centre, 26 Mind Control techniques include:
1. Hypnosis: Inducing a state of high suggestibility by hypnosis, often thinly disguised as relaxation or meditation.
Daniel Mackler’s commentary: Yuck, I can’t stand hypnosis, and I write negatively about it on this website, and have from the beginning. (And I’ve been heavily criticized by a few hypnotherapists over the years. Incidentally, I see them as rather cultish.) And I’ve taken a fair amount of heat as well for my writings about meditation. I’ve also annoyed a lot of meditating Buddhists (whom I sometimes find to be a cultish lot) with my published saying “All too often, Buddhism is Born-Again Christianity for Democrats.”
2. Peer Group Pressure: Suppressing doubt and resistance to new ideas by exploiting the need to belong.
Daniel Mackler’s commentary: I don’t feel that applies to me. Actually this is often what I fight against—and despise—in the family system. Families do this, which is why I label families as the prototypical cult. (I’ve made a two-part YouTube video on the subject as well.) Also, if anything, if a person really agrees with my point of view they’re going to have to be VERY, VERY strong in terms of being able to survive without a strong group to which they can belong, because this point of view generally gets people rejected by conventional society and the family system.
3. Love Bombing: Creating a sense of family and belonging through hugging, kissing, touching and flattery.
Daniel Mackler’s commentary: Ick, no thanks! I much prefer strong physical boundaries—no physical contact. (I am celibate, myself.) And I certainly don’t touch my patients in therapy. I think when dealing with ideas of this intensity it’s much safer for all involved to desist from physical contact. (Sexual contact especially.) And flattery? Well, over the years I may have been guilty of that sometimes. Occasionally I have been very excited to meet a new potential ally, and have been overly praising out of excitement of making a new connection—and perhaps in hopes of building a stronger bond more quickly—only to discover that the ally was actually very different from me in point of view, and really not so connected with me at all. This has almost exclusively backfired on me, so now I make an effort to be more prudent—and non-“flattering.”
4. Rejection of Old Values: Accelerating acceptance of a new life style by constantly denouncing former values and beliefs.
Daniel Mackler’s commentary: Although I strongly denounce the old values to which I once conformed, I also recognize that accepting new, honest values is no easy thing. As such, I write openly about the risks of trying to accelerate the healing process and adopt a new lifestyle. Usually, from my observation, change doesn’t happen too quickly in people, and pressuring oneself or others to change (either quickly or slowly) doesn’t bear much fruit. People have to grow on their own time schedule, and grieving old ways is a slow, personal process.
5. Confusing Doctrine: Encouraging blind acceptance and rejection of logic through complex lectures on an incomprehensible doctrine.
Daniel Mackler’s commentary: Hmm, blind acceptance? No, that’s not my style at all. I think that if someone blindly accepted my “doctrine” I would be very bored by them, because it would mean that they didn’t understand what I was saying at all. The only way someone could accept my “doctrine” is by testing it for themselves—over a long, private period of time. And as for my doctrine being incomprehensible, in my experience it’s only incomprehensible to those who absolutely cannot bear to address the pain and horror of their childhoods, and in particular the flaws and errors of their parents. I try to state my point of view as clearly and simply as possible. I see no benefit in being opaque.
6. Metacommunication: Implanting subliminal messages by stressing certain key words or phrases in long, confusing lectures.
Daniel Mackler’s commentary: When I give talks (which I do sometimes, publicly, as well as on YouTube) I try to be clear, concise, above-board, and right to the point. I can’t stand confusing lectures with metacommunication. Not my style at all. Total turn-off.
7. Removal of Privacy: Achieving loss of ability to evaluate logically by preventing private contemplation.
Daniel Mackler’s commentary: Not my point of view. My whole website is about self-reflection. That’s how I came up with these ideas, and I wouldn’t dare expect anyone to trust me and my self-reflective process based on my conclusions alone. I want allies—thinking allies—not devotees. For that reason, I would expect anyone who takes seriously this website’s ideas to engage in a significant amount of self-reflection…that is, private contemplation. Interestingly, though, when I’ve spoken with religious people who are parts of cults (Scientologists, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc.) they THINK they are being self-reflective, but really they seem to engage in little or no private contemplation at all. The closest they come is seeming to have a private moment where they decide to swallow the faith-laden dogmas of the cult—which generally is just a metaphorical replication of the dogmas of their abusive parents. Really looking within is too terrifying for them. It would rip them apart from the social fabric of their allies, and then they’d be left with nothing and no one—because their abusive childhoods and lack of grieving never afforded them a strong inner self on which to fall back.
8. Time Sense Deprivation: Destroying ability to evaluate information, personal reactions, and body functions in relation to the passage of time by removing all clocks and watches.
Daniel Mackler’s commentary: Huh? That’s not me at all. That sounds totally loony to me. As a therapist, though, I respect time greatly. All my sessions are timed. That is part of the basic structure of therapy.
9. Disinhibition: Encouraging child-like obedience by orchestrating child-like behaviour.
Daniel Mackler’s commentary: I encourage people to become real adults by HEALING the wounds of their childhood. Child-like behavior is the exact opposite of what I advocate. There is nothing healing or healthy about adults behaving like obedient children. Child-like obedience is simply a tragic replication of an abusive childhood.
10. Uncompromising Rules: Inducing regression and disorientation by soliciting agreement to seemingly simple rules which regulate mealtimes, bathroom breaks and use of medications.
Daniel Mackler’s commentary: This sounds crazy to me—sounds like a really rigid parent, in fact. That said, I do think there are strong currents of truth in life, which to some might come across as rules, and that some things are inherently dangerous for personal growth, but by the same token I think it’s vital that we all experiment with life to test what works best for us. For instance, although I’m against drugs and drinking and sex, I used drugs and I drank alcohol and had my share of sexual relationships in my past, and despite the pain that those things caused me (and others), they all offered valuable learning experiences for me on my journey. As such, I think others need to try what works for them—and test the parameters of life in order to learn the lessons they need to learn.
11. Verbal Abuse: Desensitizing through bombardment with foul and abusive language.
Daniel Mackler’s commentary: No, not my style—though I do like to curse once in a while! (Helps relieve my tension.) But I rarely curse at other people. Throughout my experience of managing this website, almost all of the verbally abusive language and writing has been directed at me. Not infrequently I get threatening and hostile emails, which the writers often justify because they feel I am being abusive toward parents. My point of view, though, is that most parents, through their unconscious behavior, are actually the abusive ones. I am just creating a theory which defends the abused child, and to some that is a serious crime. (Of note: Others send me hostile emails and write hostile things about me because they project a hope for parental-like salvation onto me, and feel rejected and angry when I naturally fail to live up to their expectations.)
12. Sleep Deprivation and Fatigue: Creating disorientation and vulnerability by prolonging mental and physical activity and withholding adequate rest and sleep.
Daniel Mackler’s commentary: I believe that getting a good night’s sleep EVERY NIGHT is VITAL for mental health and personal growth. I would never encourage sleep deprivation. And I advocate gentle exercise—not extreme exercise.
13. Dress Codes: Removing individuality by demanding conformity to the group dress code.
Daniel Mackler’s commentary: Nope, not me! Dress however you like—though I prefer modest, non-revealing clothing myself. Doesn’t lend itself to sexual distraction (and generally is less expensive to buy).
14. Chanting and Singing: Eliminating non-cult ideas through group repetition of mind-narrowing chants or phrases.
Daniel Mackler’s commentary: Chanting is SO dull and backward to me. A few years ago I ate regularly at a Japanese sushi restaurant in the East Village of Manhattan and became friendly with the owners. They were Soka Gakkai Buddhists, a proselytizing Nichiren Buddhist sect—very cultish, I came to learn. They were really into chanting (“Nam-myoho-renge-kyo,” repeated endlessly), and tried to get me to chant it too. It was a big turn-off—so dissociative. As for singing, well, I love to sing, but not repetitive songs. I like mind-expanding folk music—and songs of my own creation.
15. Confession: Encouraging the destruction of individual ego through confession of personal weaknesses and innermost feelings of doubt.
Daniel Mackler’s commentary: I think confession is vital for personal growth, but careful and wise confession. The key is to first confess the abuse and trauma one has suffered in childhood, not the abuse one has done to others—not one’s “personal weaknesses and innermost feelings of doubt.” And the first confession must be to oneself—not to anyone else. It is dangerous and destructive to confess one’s truth and one’s history to the wrong person—and even more dangerous to prematurely or inappropriately confess one’s own misdeeds. I was in therapy and did a lot of confessing to lousy therapists, and it proved hurtful to me. I’m still recovering from it in some ways. That said, I am a therapist and hear a lot of people’s confessions, but I don’t encourage quick confession at all. Instead I encourage people to test me intensely and also build a strong relationship with me—to see if I’m worth confessing to—before making any confessions. I’m surprised at how often people are so desperate to confess their misdeeds to me, yet have no idea if I’m a worthy confessor or not. Some people just think, “Oh, you’re a licensed therapist, you must know what you’re doing!” As if my license really says much at all. It doesn’t! Tons of people are licensed—and have fancier licenses than I do—and make awful confessors.
16. Financial Commitment: Achieving increased dependence on the group by ‘burning bridges’ to the past, through the donation of assets.
Daniel Mackler’s commentary: There is a time for “burning bridges” with the past—but only after great and careful consideration. The horror in burning bridges—especially with family—is too much for most to bear. And most people who burn bridges simple find new ways to recreate with others the exact same dependent relationships they had with those they recently rejected. I personally feel VERY uncomfortable when people become too dependent on me, be they therapy patients or friends or just people in general. As for donating assets to me, NO THANKS! I like to work for my money—and work hard for it—thank you very much.
17. Finger Pointing: Creating a false sense of righteousness by pointing to the shortcomings of the outside world and other cults.
Daniel Mackler’s commentary: I do a lot of finger-pointing—mostly at abusive parents, and also false psychological theorists—but I believe my finger-pointing is correct. (Of course, all cults believe they are correct!) But I believe my sense of “righteousness” is not false, but quite true. That, of course, is for you to judge.
18. Flaunting Hierarchy: Promoting acceptance of cult authority by promising advancement, power and salvation.
Daniel Mackler’s commentary: Nope, no hierarchy here, no power structure. Yes, this is “my” website, and I am the “webmaster,” but that’s just the nature of the internet.
19. Isolation: Inducing loss of reality by physical separation from family, friends, society and rational references.
Daniel Mackler’s commentary: This is a tough one. Since I generally consider family to be abusive and backward, I often do see the value in people considering a separation from family, but that has to be something that each person decides on his or her own, and on his or her own time schedule. I wouldn’t want to pressure anyone to do that—except perhaps, in extreme cases of abuse. But I’m certainly not alone in holding to this point of view! The ideal thing, I think, is for people to outgrow the inappropriate people in their lives—be they family, old friends, society, whatever—and gain a new cadre of rational, mature allies. But that’s very tough to do, and as a web presence I can only offer people so much support myself… I have gotten countless hundreds of emails over the years from people wanting me to be their new friend, their internet therapist, their email penpal, their guide, even their new society (in a sense), and I just can’t be that for them. It’s too much responsibility for me. My ultimate philosophy (even with my actual therapy patients): become your own family, your own friend, your own mother, your own father, your own guide in life. That is the point of self-therapy.
20. Controlled Approval: Maintaining vulnerability and confusion by alternately rewarding and punishing similar actions.
Daniel Mackler’s commentary: Yuck, that sounds repugnant. I’m not into that at all. Vulnerability IS important for growth, but healthy, appropriate vulnerability—humility, openness, realness—not vulnerability linked with confusion, and certainly nothing induced by me through reward or punishment.
21. Change of Diet: Creating disorientation and increased susceptibility to emotional arousal by depriving the nervous system of necessary nutrients through the use of special diets and/or fasting.
Daniel Mackler’s commentary: No, quite the opposite. I think it’s vital to eat a well-balanced diet—and I often see how many people’s problems are linked to eating a poor, nutrient-deficient diet. Others do the equally unhealthy opposite and try to plug up their emotional void by compulsive overeating. I personally am all for eating lots of fruits and veggies, and not too many carbs or fat…
22. Games: Inducing dependence on the group by introducing games with obscure rules.
Daniel Mackler’s commentary: Yuck, this isn’t me at all. I like real, straightforward interaction—without any kooky rules. And I always hated “getting-to-know-you” and “breaking-the-ice” games—especially those with weird rules—when I was a kid in camp or school.
23. No Questions: Accomplishing automatic acceptance of beliefs by discouraging questions.
Daniel Mackler’s commentary: Asking questions is vital. I got to where I’ve gotten by asking a lot of questions and questioning authority. When I had my website’s bulletin board I encouraged questions—and criticism of me. Often it was uncomfortable, but I actually learned a lot from the questions—and grew from them. I also like the following phrase (and I may have made it up myself): “Question authority, and if they’re mature they’ll answer.”
24. Guilt: Reinforcing the need for ‘salvation’ by exaggerating the sins of the former lifestyles.
Daniel Mackler’s commentary: Huh? Not me. Yes, perhaps we’ve all done things we regret in the past (I know I have), and I do believe in a sort of salvation by changing my life, but nothing mystical or magical about it, and certainly not by exaggerating the horrors of the past. Just by getting more real and self-loving. Simply and gently…
25. Fear: Maintaining loyalty and obedience to the group by threatening soul, life or limb for the slightest ‘negative’ thought, word or deed.
Daniel Mackler’s commentary: That sounds like how my childhood family treated me!!! Yuck! A few years ago my father cut me out of his will partially as the result of me putting up this website. He was embarrassed by what it implied about him. And on an emotional level my mother has done worse… As a child I was raised in a family of strongly conditional love, and I was rejected again and again when I didn’t conform to their sick rules.
26. Replacement of Relationships: Destroying pre-cult families by arranging cult marriages and ‘families’.
Daniel Mackler’s commentary: Growing up and getting honest can at times destroy “pre-cult” families—and old friendships—because we outgrow them. But the point of outgrowing old relationships is not to jump into new ones that are similar, but instead to develop a stronger relationship with oneself, from within. I’m personally against marriage in general, and sex too—unless you’re fully enlightened, which I’m not. And I don’t know anyone who is. Achieving full enlightenment is, in my opinion, the ideal—and all else is second.